It is a wonderful image – a dog running freely in the woods with his human strolling the path, both free to enjoy the nature around them.
Actually, it is a dangerous image because dogs can do much harm to wildlife if allowed to run free. Not only is it a danger to the wild animals, but it is a danger to the dog and its owner. In fact, it is illegal to allow your dog to harass wildlife. You and your dog need to practice wildlife safety.
Illegal to let your dog run loose in some locations
According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife, you can be cited and fined for letting your dog run loose. They highlight several recent incidents where dogs chased and killed deer. Dog owners are responsible for controlling their pets and are liable for any damage caused.
The consequences of even minor skirmishes between your dog and wildlife can be severe. A deer, for instance, can injure itself badly fleeing the conflict. It sees your dog as a predator and even the stress associated with the fear and flight can weaken their immune systems causing illness and potentially death. Pregnant does can lose their fawns.
Oblivious owners cause problems
When I lived in Canada, I lived on a lake where swans, ducks, loons and other migratory birds nested. The path around the lake was marked with signs that dogs must be on leashes and warning people about the nesting birds. Yet, so many people walked with their dogs off-leash, allowing them to forage in the bush and potentially killing birds and destroying their nests. It was infuriating seeing people on their cell phones walking and oblivious to their dog shredding the swan’s nest. There are often reasons for rules and laws, but many people believe they don’t have to follow them.
I am a huge bear lover. We were very “bear aware” in British Columbia because encounters were not uncommon. Many people carried bear spray, made loud noises when hiking and, most importantly, made sure their dog was on its leash. Even a barking dog on a leash is a threat to a mama bear protecting her cubs and could provoke a charge. You and your dog could be killed. Coyotes, cougars, bears, moose, and even snakes and hawks could all kill your dog.
Let common sense rule the day
Common sense should rule the day. Your dog should always be on its leash when walking in public places and when hiking in woods, on the beach and other natural habitats. It’s okay to let Pooch run free in a fenced yard or dog park, which is set up just for that activity. I am not going to address hunting dogs here because that is a special situation with a highly trained canine. I’m addressing the majority of companion dogs and their owners.
I like to think of it as common courtesy too. I made the mistake of letting my goofy Golden Retriever, Parker, run free to the car one day. A woman was walking by my house and Parker ran up to her. She started screaming and shaking; she was deathly afraid of dogs. I felt horrible and always had him on a leash even when getting in the car. You just never know what is around the corner.
A good harness and leash are necessary
One thing I would like to mention: A good harness and leash allows you to control your dog in dangerous situations. (I did a piece on harnesses here not too long ago.) I see a lot of people walking their dog with those retractable cords. They are not leashes and they do not allow you to adequately control your dog. A pup 10 feet away on the end of a cord might as well be off-leash, in my opinion. I have actually witnessed a small dog on the end of one of those get attacked and injured by another dog – the owner was helpless.
Here are some ideas to protect dogs and wildlife
- Make sure you can control your dog if/when the need arises.
- Always have your dog on a leash (a strong leash and harness) in public places.
- Be aware at all times of your surroundings when with your dog. Other dogs, people and wildlife can all be a risk for an unfortunate encounter.
- If you are hiking in an area that has a sensitive ecosystem and abundant wildlife, think about leaving your dog at home. Be selective about your adventures.
- And, maybe most importantly, when you encounter wildlife, keep your distance from them. Observe from afar. If the animal is reacting to you and your dog, you are too close.
Enjoy the time you have together with your dog while being respectful of the wild animals we are so lucky to have grace our lives.